Alison Weissbrot
Mar 21, 2022

How Astound Commerce is supporting Ukrainian employees in wartime

The digital commerce consultancy has Ukrainian founders and close to 1,000 employees in the country.

How Astound Commerce is supporting Ukrainian employees in wartime

When Astound Commerce opened its doors in San Francisco 22 years ago, founder Ilya Vinogradsky was committed to operating in his home country of Ukraine.

In 2006, Astound opened its first office in Kyiv. Fast forward to 2022, and the company has offices in five Ukrainian cities and nearly 1,000 employees in the country, making up the largest portion of its 1,600-person employee base.

Astound Commerce’s leadership team began preparing for the possibility of war months in advance of Putin’s attack in late February. In fact, the agency has had business continuity plans in place since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.

“Ukraine has been in a state of war for the last eight years,” Vinogradsky said.

Just before the war broke out, Astound urged employees to move west if they could, providing bus services to transport them and their families away from potential warzones. This was especially urgent for employees in the eastern cities close to the Russian border, where the company has offices.

The day after Russia attacked, Vinogradsky jumped on a plane from his home in San Francisco to Slovakia, spending two weeks in Astound’s offices there. In addition to showing his support for the company and its employees in Ukraine, he was able to help with logistics and getting people into the bordering country.

“I told my wife, ‘I can't stay at home. I have to be there,’” he said. “It was very emotional and extremely important for me to go.”

In those first few days, ultimately two out of three staff got to safe zones where Astound paid for their housing in hotels and apartments.

“We didn't feel it was appropriate to try and force people, so a lot did not take us seriously enough and stayed,” Vinogradsky said. “As the war accelerated, our ability to help our people in the warzone has diminished.”

While ensuring people’s safety has been Astound’s foremost priority, the agency has also managed to stay on top of client work, thanks in part to its employees in other countries who are stepping up to support their Ukrainian coworkers. Astound doesn’t have any clients in Ukraine and has been able to continue to service its clients through the war.

“Clients have been extremely supportive, as the whole world has been supportive of Ukraine,” Vinogradsky said. “Our teams are continuing to execute on commitments the company made to our clients.”

Like many Ukrainian agencies, Astound is also helping to support its country and the army. The agency endorsed three local nonprofits where it is driving donations. Employees are dedicating their free time to combating cyber attacks and disinformation from Russia. The agency also continued to financially support the families of roughly 20 employees that joined the Ukrainian army to fight.

As of Thursday, March 17, all of Astound’s employees have been accounted for, and there have been no casualties among the team. Everyone who wanted to relocate was able to, despite men aged 18 to 60, who are required by law to remain in Ukraine.

“We've reached a kind of equilibrium,” Vinogradsky said. “But things change day to day. What used to be safe yesterday might not be safe tomorrow.”

Despite the tragedy in Ukraine, Astound remains committed to the country as a hub for its business. The company continues to hire in Ukraine as many people lost their jobs during the war and are looking for work.

“We've been part of the Ukrainian story of economic development,” Vinogradsky said. “We are committed to the people and the country. We’re hoping the war will come to an end soon, and we will participate in the rebuilding of Ukraine. We are not leaving.”

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